Worth a Watch: Asia

Part 2 of my Worth a Watch series.

This time I explore modern (post 1988) Asian cinema that I’m familiar with, mostly action/crime films. Asian cinema has a lot more to offer than just martial arts and extreme films (although it’s well-known for them.) I picked 14 standouts from a few different countries.


Hong Kong

Dip Huet Seung Hung [The Killer] (1989) & Lat Sau San Taam [Hard boiled] (1992)

White doves, dual Berettas, and Chow Yun-Fat; do action movies get any better than these? Well no, they don’t. These films are still the gold standard of action choreography, gunplay, and heroic bloodshed. Starting with Ying Hung Boon Sik [A Better Tomorrow] (1986), director John Woo defined a new genre of Asian action movies, one which focuses on stylistic gunplay rather than traditional martial arts. While The Killer is a much stronger film, both thematically and narratively, Hard Boiled is the pinnacle of action cinema. Every subsequent action scene out does the previous, culminating to one of the best single-take sequences ever filmed.

Chiu Kup Ging Chat [Supercop] (1992)

While Jackie Chan made several similar movies in the ’90s, Supercop is definitely his best and most balanced film. Also starring Michelle Yeoh, and Maggie Cheung, the film boasts an impressive cast whose comedic exchanges are on par with the expectedly superb action/stunt sequences. While not a “great” film, it is certainly entertaining and enjoyable.

Mou Gaan Dou [Infernal Affairs] (2002)

Although it lacks the grit and acclaim of the US remake (The Departed), it is in many ways a superior film. It maintains a better sense of tension and uncertainty as the story progresses and the ending is handled in a very un-Hollywood like way. The acting is also top-notch with two of Asia’s premier actors, Andy Lau and Tony Leung. Both expertly play characters who are torn between loyalty and autonomy. Also, not having to listen to forced Boston accents throughout is a plus.

Siu Lam Juk Kau [Shaolin Soccer] (2001) & Gong Fu [Kung-Fu Hustle] (2004)

Stephen Chow‘s comedies are fairly polarizing; some people just don’t get the humor. Blending CGI and wacky characters to embellish the action and (silly) humor. While technically not great films, they are original and a refreshing take on the comedy/martial arts genre.

Tie Ma Liu [Iron Monkey] (1993)

Great “classic” style martial arts film about a masked legend who protects the innocent from tyranny. Although much of the action employs wire-based stunts, the choreography is among the best ever filmed. Every battle, especially the finale involving burning poles, is extraordinary and memorable.

Chuen Jik Sat Sau [Fulltime Killer] (2001)

The plot is basically a rehash of the substantially shittier Assassins (1995) and many other hitman films. Competing assassins clash attempting to be the best at their profession, while an innocent women is reluctantly involved. The film’s action sequences have great style and visual flair, with director Johnnie To channeling John Woo in his choreography and camera-work.


Ong-Bak (2003) & Tom Yum Goong [The Protector] (2005)

Tagline: “No computer graphics. No stunt doubles. No wires.” These films are a great change-of-pace from the recent wave of sfx-heavy martial arts films. The acting is awful, the stories inane, and the translated dialog is often (unintentionally) hilarious. However, the action and stunt work is sublime; every punch, elbow, and knee appears to connect with great force. I’m convinced that, at minimum, 3 stunt-men must have been killed/gravely injured during the filming of Ong-Bak. I’m pretty sure this kind of film can’t be made in the US, as there are laws preventing humans from being treated the way the stunt-men are (especially in the opening tree race scene).


Sonatine (1993)

Intriguing tale of a Yakuza boss stuck in a personal purgatory, fed up with the gangster lifestyle he’s lead and awaiting death. Different than the other films on this list as it focuses more on character development and reflection, rather than action and violence (which occurs mostly off-screen). A well crafted crime-thriller by Takeshi Kitano that does not follow gangster/mafia film conventions or clichés.

*Couldn’t find a better trailer

South Korea

Jjakpae [The City of Violence] (2006)

The City of Violence is as pure an action film as there is, not bothering with “minor” things like character development or logic. Light on the gunplay, rather focusing on martial arts and brawling all the while maintaining an offbeat, tongue-in-cheek humor. It features some insane epic battles, including an encounter with multiple teenage street gangs straight out of The Warriors (1979). Many sequences are highly reminiscent of Kill Bill; such as the outrageously outnumbered battles, soundtrack, and visual style.

Salinui Chueok [Memories of Murder] (2003)

Memories of Murder is a film about a fictional investigation into the real-life series of murders that occurred in 1986 South Korea. The film unorthodoxly intertwines offbeat comedy with the grisly murders, continually changing the film’s tone throughout. The injection of comedy to such a morbid story is remarkably effective without ever appearing forced or out-of-place.

*Note: 2 dropkicks in one trailer

Chinjeolhan Geumjassi [Lady Vengeance] (2005)

My first exposure to director Chan-wook Park (Oldboy 2003) and it was long overdue. A brutal, yet stunning, film about long-sought revenge and the ethical and consequential dilemmas which accompany it. The story is purposely slow and methodically paced, focusing on character struggles rather than action. However, there are some extreme scenes of violence and suffering that can (and will) unnerve some viewers.


*Two surprises I had while writing this:
1.) I’ve seen (embarrassingly) few recent Japanese films.
2.) South Korea has been producing many quality films in the last decade or so

About sebastianhaff
I'm Steve. 24 year old recent college grad. My love of films (and sheer boredom) lead me to begin this blog. My taste in movies is eclectic, although I tend to lean toward foreign and non-mainstream cinema. Feel free to contact me at: sebastianhaff@ymail.com

6 Responses to Worth a Watch: Asia

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Movies: 2001 « It's a Trick. Get an Axe.

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  3. Pingback: Top 10 Movies: 2003 « It's a Trick. Get an Axe.

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